By Mariam Nihal - Saudi Gazette - JEDDAH – Problems relating to the renewing of Iqamas (residence permits) and transferring of sponsorships have become acute of late with alarming consequences for most expats in the Kingdom.
As the Labor Ministry tries to curb unemployment through its various programs, including its Nitaqat system, problems associated with the transfer and renewal of Iqamas have taken their toll on expats in Saudi Arabia. This includes an increase in fraud.
Looking for a way to acquire an Iqama, Ghada Nasser, a 30-year-old banker from Nouakchott, was told to undergo a sham marriage to get the right paperwork. The person who proposed this to her was a mu’aqqib – a middle man who receives commission for his services for processing paperwork in government offices.
“He asked me to undergo a sham marriage with a Saudi man and then to divorce him as that would make him my sponsor and I could keep my Iqama,” she said, adding that she was left in shock by the thought. “I was in disbelief and could not believe the stories he told me. He said it was okay for me to do so if I wanted to live in the country as it was just a marriage on paper,” she said, adding, “How far would you go to keep your Iqama?”
As a result of the Nitaqat program, companies in the “red” category are barred from renewing their workers’ visas, whereas companies in the “green” are allowed to recruit foreign workers and transfer the sponsorships of workers without their current employers’ consent.
“The crux of the problem is that sponsors (kafeels) abuse the power given to them and negate the responsibility attached to them as sponsors,” said Omar Hussein, a 27-year-old Saudi businessman. “Workers, especially laborers, are exploited. This is the main reason why we have so many illegal immigrants and people in debt. Even my driver who earns SR2,000 a month borrowed SR7,000 from his friends to pay off his kafeel. This is unlawful and serious steps should be taken to ensure expatriate workers are not exploited,” he added.
Jameel Hussain, a 26-year-old Egyptian marketing executive living in Riyadh, said he paid SR26,000 to renew his Iqama. “It took me six months of constant begging … My company could not sponsor my wife and child and so I had to look for another sponsor. Our initial agreement was SR5,000 … After six months of humiliation, he finally renewed my Iqama for SR26,000,” he said.
Abdul Majeed, a 49-year-old driver from Balochistan, believes the victims are mostly unskilled laborers. “The problem is more so for drivers and laborers,” he said.
He said he knows people who are living illegally in the Kingdom because their Iqamas have expired. He added that they do not want to return to their countries of origin and neither do they have the money to pay their kafeels.
“It’s the worst possible scenario. This is why they commit crimes and give us a bad name. But they need to live and if they do not have money or an Iqama they have to find alternative ways,” he added.
Hana Nabeel, a 42-year-old teacher living in Jeddah, told Saudi Gazette that she lives in fear. “I live in fear. Every year, I feel that my husband’s kafeel might refuse to renew our Iqama and that we may be deported,” she said. Asked what she would do if she lost her sponsorship, she said, “I do not want to go back to India. I have lived here for 30 years, this is my home. But if, God forbid, it were to happen, then this would be the worst thing to happen to me. All my children were born here and for us Saudi Arabia is our home,” she said.
Zaheer Abbas, a 30-year-old Public Relations officer in Jeddah, told Saudi Gazette that the problem is that most companies only renew their Iqamas for a year. “My father can only renew his Iqama for a year but I manage to get it done for two years because we have friendly relations with our kafeel... It’s all about wasta (connections). If you have good connections, then you can breathe easy for at least two years,” he said.
He added that although the Kingdom’s residency rules state that an Iqama holder’s sons need to have separate Iqamas once they start working and have no longer student status, he knows people who do not comply. “I do not understand how it is done. I guess a lot of money is paid under the table as it is easier to keep your children on your Iqama than to go through the hassle of finding different kafeels.”